Kerala romp into final of Santosh trophy

Defending champions Kerala defeat Services 3-2 to move into the final of the 58th national football championship for Santosh Trophy.

updated: February 25, 2007 09:28 IST
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Defending champions Kerala warded off a spirited challenge from Services to carve out a 3-2 victory and cruise into the final of the 58th national football championship for Santosh Trophy here today. The winners led 2-1 at the breather. The match began on an even note with both the teams maintaining constant pressure on the rival goalmouth and created some opportunity for the forwards. However in the ninth minute of the game the hardworking Raghu Kumar of Services sent in a measured volley to Jhony F Gangmei who headed in much to the surprise of the Kerala goalkeeper. It was piece of defensive error for the reigning champion as they failed to mark the diminutive Gangmei who was lurking dangerously in front of the goalmouth. Stung by the reverse, Kerala team went into the offensive as a handful of Keralites who were working in this state capital, vocally supported their team. The result was immediate as only three minutes later T Asif Saheer got a through ball which, was a result of good tackles by S Ignatious and Abdul Noushad, and shot the ball in from inside the box. With the score tied 1-1, both the teams slowed down the pace of the game, preferring not to take too many risks. However, the goal of the match came from Saheer who produced the famous 'bicycle kick' to a measured cross from Shabeer Ali from the left flank to beat the onrushing goal keeper to make it 2-1 in the 22nd minute of the match. Services did not lose heart by squandering the one-goal lead early in the match as they produced a couple of brilliant chances but on each occasion poor finish brought their downfall. First it was Gangmei who missed a sitter in the 40th minute as he shot wide with only the goalkeeper to beat. There was, however, counter attacks from the Kerala strikers immediately after that as Ignatious failed to reach a through ball in front of the goal and Abdul Noushad scored but was caught offside by referee S Suresh. Probably the easiest chance of scoring a goal was squandered by Services as defender K Bineesh brought off a brilliant goalline save after a stinging Preetam Bahadur grounder had beaten the Kerala custodian Purushottama. Then in the dying minutes of the first half, Preetam Bahadur again shot following a goalmouth melee but Vinu Jose came to the rescue of Kerala as he blocked the shot and sent the ball for a corner kick. The Kerala players appealed for a goal as they claimed that the ball had crossed the goalline but the referee did not relent. The beginining of the second half saw some attacking soccer, particularly from Services who were desperate for the equaliser. Services managed to find the equaliser in the 69th minute when Preetam Bahadur headed home from inside the box following a brilliant free kick by Debnath. Services continued to keep the pressure on their rivals with a series of raids with Preetam Bahadur, Gangmei and Raghu Kumar combining well. The match winner for Kerala came in the 78th minute when K Ajayan got a lose ball and shot home with a stinging grounder which was too much for goalkeeper Abungobi Singh. Desperate efforts were made by Services in the dying minutes but the delaying tactics adopted by Kerala as they played the ball among themselves prevented them from restoring parity. Kerala coach M Peethambaran said he was happy with the performance of his boys and was looking forward to the final. This is Kerala's 11th entry into the final. They have won the crown six times and ended runners up six times. (PTI)